Ashes You Leave hails from Croatia and drew my attention in the mid nineties with their death/doom approach. It must have been very hard to form a band and survive at that time of the war. Can you tell a bit about those early days?
Well back in those days the war just ended and we needed some way to express our emotions and doom was, in our opinion, the best way. Music, metal music in particular, was still underground in Croatia back in 90's.There were few clubs where we could play and no labels or promoters. So after recording our first demo 'The Kingdome Before The Lies' we decided to look for a foreign label to help us promote our music. So after few failed deals we finally signed for German “Morbid Records” .
Although you were inspired by bands like My Dying Bride you never copied your favourite bands. For instance, flute and violin played an important role in your music. What can we see as main features of the band in period number one?
MDB were the main inspiration in those early years but I could never agree that we copied them. We tried to capture their mood but with our own touch of sadness. Dunja was an excellent flute player and a composer, and I think that that alone made a significant difference. From day one when AYL was formed we had a female lead singer and a violin player. Since we are from Croatia, the folk music of our country is somewhere in our music roots, combined with the fact that we played doom with female vocals a violin and a flute, we managed to create a rather authentic sound.
After the third album long time female singer Dunja left. Why did she leave and I guess it must have been pretty difficult to replace her, as she also plays flute…
Unfortunately, the same as for all bands that don't make a living from music, there came a time when every member had to decide if he or she can and wants to manage both the private life and band responsibilities. As far as Dunja is concerned, she decided that college and studying came before the band. I know it sounds strange but her college gave her no time at all, which led to even bigger problems such as the cancellation of a tour back in '98. That was a really tough time for us because we had to choose between having Dunja as a singer and playing live. The band decided to play live. Luckily for us we managed to find a replacement for Dunja in a short time and resume performing live.
After Dunja's departure we tried out several flute players but we never found anyone to fill her shoes. Maybe one day we'll reintroduce flute again....
But you have found Marina as singer at that time. After the fourth album 'Fire' you did some festival appearances abroad like Summer Breeze, Metal Female Voices and Wave Gotik Treffen. What about these experiences?
Looking back on those times I'm sorry that we didn't have a decent support from our previous label. We toured, played major festivals, female voices trend was on the rise, and we were shoulder to shoulder with bands that are now huge. Being signed with a label that didn't support that kind of music was a very frustrating experience. Playing at those festivals and sharing the stage with big metal bands gave us a taste of how great a life of a musician can be.
What happened next, because the following years we did not hear anything anymore about Ashes You Leave? I guess it started with looking for another label?
After 'Fire' and the promotional tour it was obvious that we needed to change our label. Morbid Records couldn't meet with our demands anymore and we needed a fresh start. The search for a new label was a long and hard process. We booked the studio with no record deal and than the unimaginable happened – Marina and our drummer decided to leave the band!!! ...and yeah than I thought it's all over. Soon after that we realised that we can't live like that anymore. So I and the remaining members decided to record the new album on our own. We found Tamara and Dalibor and we made this album alive. We were looking for a decent label for almost a year before we signed to Sleaszy Rider Records from Greece. We are proud to say that we are the label's top priority band - and we are ready to kick some serious ass hehe!
As you said, many people left the band. Now there's only you, Berislav (grunts, guitars) and violinist Marta left from the original line-up. Are you both the main song writers or did the new members contribute in the writing process?
Yeah all new members are included in song writing process and that is the driving force behind the 'Songs Of The Lost' album. We took an advantage of Tamara's great piano skills, Dalibor's drumming and of course Luka's great lyrics and those are the factors that made this album so unique.
Time has changed many things, also in Croatian metal scene I guess. Can we say that many things have improved?
You are right, now we have a bigger scene with new bands emerging every day. Several of these bands also have a contract with foreign labels. The perception of metal bends started to change even with Croatian record labels. Some of the mainstream labels from Croatia started signing metal bands as well. All major tours include our country as well, so the situation is much better than ten years ago.
You even have an amazing upcoming yearly festival Metalcamp now! Have you been there (or played there?)
Metal camp is in Slovenia! This is really near Croatia, and many bands from here played there, but unfortunately due to some reasons I can't discuss here we never played there. But we hope next year we will!
What was actually the most famous period for the band until now?
After the release of 'Inheritance Of Sin And Shame' we made some really good impact on market and we were featured on many compilations. We had reviews in many magazines and e-zines but I think that most “famous” period is ahead of us because after almost fifteen years we finally have all: crew, songs, supportive label and one thing that we never had – top album production.
I have the impression that 'Songs Of The Lost' still has a melancholic approach, but the music goes in a catchier, nearly poppy approach…
We never made songs to fit into some cliché or to please some targeted audience. Maybe that is the reason why we are still unrecognized in some circles. All new songs are completely our work, no producer or pre producer were engaged on this project. Yeah I also think that songs are catchier but I don't think that's bad thing at all. We reached that musical level when we can make a song from one riff and not from dozens of them.
Your version of Placebo's 'Every You Every Me' is a stunning one! I like it. Can you tell about your own feelings why you choose this one and what were the challenges in putting down your own version?
Placebo is one of my favourite bands and that is a killer song. So I decided to re-write that song in AYL stile and I think I nailed it, with a little help from my band mates.
You just got back from playing at Croatian Music Event – T-Mobile Inmusic festival. How was it and what kind of music festival is it?
T-mobile Inmusic festival is among top ten festivals in Europe and it offers many different stiles of music; from Franz Ferdinand to death metal. This year we shared the stage with Hatebreed and Dimmu Borgir, and it was a great experience. There is one anecdote: during our show the guitarist from Dimmu Borgir (Galder) approached one of the crew and asked him what is this great band and if he could watch the show from stage. So we played and he stood there behind us the whole concert.... funny stuff…
I also found out that you did an acoustic show, supporting Danny Cavanagh (Anathema). That must have been a special event!
That was a very special night for us because that was our first acoustic show and that night we discovered another side of our music. We received excellent feedback from the audience so we decided to do it again in the near future.
Indeed, you will do another acoustic show, isn't it? What are your ideas about playing the stripped off songs?
Yeah we have another show in a few weeks at one Croatian coastal city (Zadar) and we are really looking forward to it. For our acoustic versions, we did the same thing we did for the cover of Placebo. We changed the arrangements, vocal parts, guitars etc. We try to give the audience an entirely new experience of our songs.
Can you tell something about the artwork?
The cover artwork and the complete CD design was done by one of the finest Swedish artist Andreas Soderlund. We sent him all the lyrics and the music and he came up with this great idea which is really in tune with our stile. New CD is available as a limited deluxe digipak edition so if you are interested in buying it, you better hurry!
Who wrote the lyrics? What is the main source of inspiration? Is there a kind of common thread?
The lyrics were written by Luka (our bass player) and his brother Marko. Since all the bad things that happened after 'Fire', Marina leaving, the search for a new label etc., we needed lyrics to represent our state of mind. And, in my opinion, we hit the spot! This album has some of the darkest lyrics in AYL history! It opens with the phrase: “All is lost”. We didn't want to sound pathetic but the state we were in was perfect to write lyrics. There is no connecting idea, or a concept, behind the lyrics, but all of them are personal tales of loss and disappointment.
What are the prospects to play at Brutal Assault festival? I think most of the bands are way much more brutal. Are you going to select the harsher songs for this event?
Well, not all bands are brutal at Brutal Assault! Let's say that this year we play with Opeth, and they are not a brutal band. I think that they are trying to expand their line up with bends of different genres. They recently confirmed Biohazard so.... Our goal is to introduce our music to people that never heard us before, so our play list will not be modified to please the brutal fans but to show what AYL is really about.
Do you still play old songs live?
Of course we do! We try to play at least one song from each of our albums on every concert. We listen to the wishes from our audience and rehearse some songs we didn't play for years. It's very interesting to hear how Tamara handles songs from 'Passage Back To Life' or from 'Desperate Existence'. We are still surprised how many people know our old songs so we enjoy playing them live.
Where was the album recorded? Did you use an extern producer?
The album was recorded in G.I.S. studio in a small old town called Kastav (Croatia) and it was mixed and mastered in beautiful city of Bled in Slovenia. We produced the album ourselves, and we are extremely satisfied how it turned out.
You are considered as an echelon of the scene in Croatia. What can we understand by this? Can you tell some stories about the advantages of being around for such a long time?
I must say that we are more “popular” in let's say Germany than in Croatia, and that's mainly our fault. We always concentrated to play gigs abroad and we neglected our fans home. Now we have different approach and we'll try to recoup to our fans here. As I said before, many things changed in Croatia since our first steps, so now we have many excellent bands which can be compared with any foreign band. The problem here is that we don't have domestic metal label with strong promotion but we all hope that is going to change soon.
Are there plans for touring or gigs to support the album?
Yeah we have some plans to go on a tour as a support and later will do a small headlining tour. More details will be known in a few weeks.
Plans for a video clip?
We are negotiating with one video producer, and hopefully we'll start recording our first video clip during July.
What were the highlights and main turning points in the career of Ashes You Leave until now?
I would say that highlight is the fact that we are recognized worldwide as a unique band and not some music industry clone, but also the fact that we survived on the scene for fourteen years. Our misfortune is so many changes in band line-up during the years. We wasted precious time on looking for singers, drummers, bassists instead of playing gigs and promoting our music. Those times are now behind us, and now we sound better then ever.
What are the plans for the near future?
Well we already have a few new songs that we'll record during the fall. I believe that a new album is going to be ready for the next year. Never again shall fans have to wait for so long for a new album! Also we have plans to record a live acoustic album this winter, so we'll be extremely busy in the upcoming months.